A Tribute to Dr. Siegfried Pueschel

It is with deep sadness that we write about the passing of Dr. Siegfried Pueschel, a true hero in the Down syndrome community worldwide. Dr. Pueschel died Monday, September 2nd after a battle with prostate cancer.

Born in Germany, Dr. Pueschel came to the United States in the 1960′s. His son, Christian, who had Down syndrome, was born in 1965 in Montreal, where Sig was completing his medical residency. Chris’s birth changed the direction of Dr. Pueschel’s medical focus – which in turn changed the lives of people with Down syndrome forever.

Sig Pueschel was a part of the NDSC at its inception, in 1973. He was a parent, an advisor, an active board member, and even served a term as President of our Board of Directors. He presented at our annual convention more   times than we can count, and served on our Professional  Advisory Council until his death. NDSC board members and staff have recounted their experiences in serving with Sig as “a true honor”.  Former NDSC board member Carlene Mattson wrote, “I can think of no other pioneer who has single handedly done as much to make the world a better place for people with Down syndrome than Dr. Pueschel. His accomplishments were beyond exceptional, but it was how he loved us that will keep him forever in our hearts.”

Claudia Lowe, Executive Director of the Down Syndrome Society of Rhode Island worked closely with Sig and said, “No one person can be everything to everyone, but Dr. Pueschel came pretty close.  As a physician, Dr. Pueschel spent time with each family and answered their questions; explained in detail what Down syndrome was all about.  As a colleague, he encouraged us to advocate to insure the best of everything for all individuals with Down syndrome, as all of our children deserve the best life has to offer. The members of DSSRI were so lucky to have had Dr. Pueschel right here in Rhode Island.  How he celebrated each and every child and adult with Down syndrome! God Speed, Dr. Pueschel, you will be missed.”

Our admiration of Sig and his work with and for people with Down syndrome is without precedent. If you have a family member with Down syndrome, he has had a positive impact on your life, and you may not even know it.

At our convention in Denver in July, the National Down Syndrome Congress honored Sig with a Lifetime Achievement Award, for his unparalleled contributions to our organization, to the Down syndrome medical community, and for his tireless devotion to improving the lives of people with Down syndrome. While Sig reached the heights in his professional life, with credentials including MD, PhD, MPH, and JD, it was his selflessness and truly giving spirit that we will recall most often. He knew more about Down syndrome than anyone else in the room in most situations, but would never make anyone feel “less than” because of it.  In accepting NDSC’s Lifetime Achievement Award, he continued to deflect the honor – by saying the award was not for him, but that he would accept it on behalf of all of those with Down syndrome he has been privileged to know over the past 50 years.

Sig was a pioneer in the language he used when speaking about individuals with Down syndrome. He was respectful in a time when that was not always the accepted practice. His words at our convention in 1999 resonate with us today:  “These children taught me about their human qualities, the enormous contributions they can make to society, and their passion for life. They also taught me that special children are no different from other children in their needs, only in the manner by which they express them and that they are not different from others in their rights, only the way they learn and use them. Moreover, I learned from Chris and from other individuals with Down syndrome that there is a goodness, kindheartedness, humanity, and magic in our children that must be protected and never be betrayed.”

Upon the death of Senator Edward Kennedy in 2009, Dr. Pueschel wrote a tribute for our newsletter, Down Syndrome News. He wrote, in part, “We are all indebted to him, because his giving heart impacted on the lives of so many people in this country, including my son Chris, and my family.” We could use those exact words when we speak about Sig. His impact upon families all across this country and around the world is enormous. We are truly indebted to Dr. Siegfried Pueschel, and feel fortunate to have been touched by his generosity. The NDSC family will miss him tremendously.

In lieu of flowers, the family has requested that donations be sent to the Down Syndrome Society of Rhode Island, 99 Bald Hill Road, Cranston, RI 02920. You can read more about Dr. Pueschel’s life here, and share stories and photos on this Facebook tribute page.

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